Since I started writing posts here on OverTheCap.com, I have rarely, if ever, written about my beloved New York Jets. Jason does an incredible job covering every move the team makes, so there is never anything to add. However, with the Jets set to entertain a quarterback controversy (…again), I want to take a minute and write about a scenario the Jets may be facing, the question of what to do with Mark Sanchez if he isn’t the starting quarterback next year.
As we all know, the Jets quarterback situation isn’t exactly stellar and so the team is set to host a competition for the starting job come training camp. With the abrupt retirement of David Gerrard, we are left with two realistic options to win the job, incumbent Mark Sanchez and touted rookie Geno Smith (no, I don’t count Greg McElroy). In terms of skill, the competition could go either way. Nobody quite knows what the Jets have in Smith just yet, and there’s an argument to be made new Jets coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s offense is as best a fit for Sanchez as any scheme he’s been in since entering the league in 2009. It wouldn’t shock me if either one outperformed the other come camp. For purposes of this post, let’s assume Geno Smith wins the job and is under center against Revis and company on September 8th. At this point, you’d have voices screaming from every direction as to how handle Sanchez.
There are really two ways the team could go here. The first option is to keep Sanchez on the roster as Smith’s backup. Many would say he’s a better backup then the free agent scrap heaps that remain, and that’s certainly a fair statement. But, if Sanchez remained on the roster all year and wasn’t the starting quarterback, it could create a headache that no one needs. If Smith succeeds, we’re sure to get many camera shots of Sanchez looking glum on the sidelines during games. If Smith struggles, we’ll certainly read a ton of stories about Sanchez looking over Smith’s back, ready to pounce on the job before Smith could truly grab it. I’m sure we’ll even hear how Sanchez looks like a new man in practice, much like we heard during camp last season. This is not the route I would take, but you can certainly understand where people are coming from who would argue Sanchez is the best option as a backup QB. The other option would be to release (or potentially trade) Sanchez prior to the season’s commencement and either sign a new backup or roll with McElroy or someone else competing during camp. I feel confident in saying thiis the choice many Jets fans would prefer. However, whenever you hear talk of Sanchez’ release, you always hear the cap “experts” on TV say it’s, “not a possibility based on the Jets cap situation.”
If you were to listen only to the folks on ESPN, it would quite honestly be a reasonable assumption that the Jets were doomed to go 1-15 next year (hell, let’s say 0-16 for the next decade, just for fun) solely due to cap issues. However, if you’re a reader of this website, you know that the Jets cap issues were vastly overstated. If you want to argue the Jets aren’t a good team based on talent issues, that’s fine. But to say the team is in “cap hell” shows a lack of homework on the part of the speaker. The team made the no-brainer moves of releasing unproductive players that yielded high cap savings, guys such as Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Jason Smith. Of course these savings were not contemplated by the people reporting these issues. These releases saved the team nearly $30 million in cap room (Jason Smith saved $12 million alone!).
Back to Sanchez. Again, we are assuming Geno Smith is the team’s starting quarterback at this point and the team wants to release or trade Sanchez. What are the cap implications? Well, let’s say he’s released out of the blue today. The Jets would suffer a dead money hit on their 2013 salary cap of $17,653,125. This consists of his guaranteed base salary, workout bonuses, and accelerated signing bonus prorations. However, it’s currently May 20th, Smith hasn’t done anything except look decent in rookie minicamp and Sanchez remains on the roster. It is very doubtful right now that Sanchez is getting released prior to June 1st, so lets look at the implications if he’s released after June 1st. As Jason has thoroughly explained on the site before, a June 1st cut spreads out the dead money hit Sanchez would cost the team. If Sanchez were cut after June 1st, the Jets would suffer a 2013 cap hit of $12,853,125 from his guaranteed base salary, 2013 signing bonus proration and $500k workout bonus. The Jets would then suffer a $4.8 million dead money hit in 2014 due to the acceleration of his bonus proration in 2015 and 2016 (on top his 2014 proration). Either way, the Jets are suffering the same cap hit, it’s just a matter of when.
Now, let’s just go back to the Jets salary cap for a second. The team has an estimated $11,743,505 in cap space for 2013 (which includes Sanchez’ 2013 hit of $12,853,125). Additionally, this includes those draft pickss that are signed, but does not include the estimates for those who remain unsigned (The Jets 2013 cap number for all draft picks is an estimated $6,916,58). If the Jets cut Sanchez today, another chunk of $4.8 million eats into that space (that $4.8 million is from his accelerated bonus proration). So, could the Jets release Sanchez today and absorb the full hit? Yes, they could. It wouldn’t leave them with much room at all though, and they still need to account for signing a new backup (if they don’t stick with McElroy or someone else on the roster) and any injury replacements. It would be tough to swallow, but it’s theoretically possible. As mentioned above though, if the Jets do release Sanchez, it would likely be as a June 1st cut where his cap hit would be spread over this year and next. If this happens, the estimated cap space listed above wouldn’t change; Sanchez’ 2013 hit would be the same as if he were here (the Jets would then just suffer the $4.8 million hit in 2014).No matter which way you look at it, the cap situation isn’t 100% stopping the Jets from making the move.
Many people would scream, “Why would the Jets suffer a 2013 cap hit to release Sanchez that’s at the very least, equal to the amount the Jets would suffer if Sanchez were on the roster?” Very reasonable question. It’s definitely not the most financially prudent move in the world. But, the benefits from other places may outweigh the negatives suffered from the financial imprudence. Despite all the numbers and cap figures thrown around, this is still, you know, a football team (I know, hard to believe sometimes). There are other considerations besides those numbers and cap figures. It’s not going to be financially sound regardless of what the Jets decide to do. Aside from the options I listed above regarding his release, Sanchez will either be an extremely high-paid backup that will be a constant distraction (through no fault of his own – Sanchez likely would play the good soldier), or, if traded, the Jets suffer a hit on their cap anyway due to covering part of his salary AND for the bonus proration that would accelerate into 2013 (similar to Revis’ prorated bonus amounts accelerating in 2013 due to the trade). There is simply no escaping a significant salary cap commitment to Mark Sanchez right now, but there IS escaping the media and locker room headache that comes with it. The Jets are clearly not sold on Sanchez progressing to where they need him to be, they wouldn’t have spent a second round pick on a quarterback if they were. There are available ways out of the Sanchez situation, we’ll see if the team decides to take any.